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October 2008


One of the truly difficult things to come to terms with is the failure of the ‘system’. By which I mean your system, my system, anybody’s system. It’s as if we invest so much time and effort and creativity into inventing systems that we cannot accept when they fail or crash. The recent financial crash is a classic example – of course in a year’s time it will seem obvious that it had to happen, but as it has recently unfolded there has been a general incredulity as to how this has occurred. Wasn’t the Financial sector employing the best brains in the country? Wasn’t the regulation quality assured? Didn’t the politicians and Government actively promote and endorse what was going on? Hm.

All systems fail; just when we think we’ve cracked ‘it’, it cracks! For example, there are many things we can do to improve our recruitment processes, including using psychometrics, systematic interviewing processes, CV checks and so on. Yet, still the duff candidate gets the job and upends the ‘systematic’ procedures.

My own product, Motivational Maps, is a wonderful and systematic device for discovering what motivates and how motivated people are; further, its Reward Strategies package can help managers and directors really identify how to get their teams energized and moving. But there’s always ONE person for whom the Map doesn’t apply. Strangely, this is not because the Map is inaccurate, but because the Map cannot measure what some people carry around with them: psychopathology!

For these people, whatever their personality traits or their motivational profile, there is a bigger agenda that must be followed. Perhaps a good word for this would be OBSESSION – an obsession that destroys reason, logic and all internal coherence.

Norman F. Dixon’s wonderful book on the Psychology of Military Incompetence has a useful section on the difference between the autocratic (which can sometimes be justified) and the authoritarian leader, which is psychopathological, and cannot.

The behavioural characteristics of the authoritarian personality, he says, are:

1. conventionality - usually a rigid adherence to middle-class values

2. submissiveness - to the idealized moral authority of the group with        which s/he identifies self, and to higher authority

3. aggressiveness - towards those who violate conventional values

4. anti-intraceptive - opposes the subjective, the imaginative, the tender-minded

5. stereotypy - disposition to stereotype and think in rigid categories

6. power - preoccupation with 'strong' leadership, exaggerated assertions of toughness

7. cynical - frequent vilification of others

8. projectivity - the projection outwards of unconscious emotional impulses, so that the world is constantly interpreted as being a dangerous place

9. 'puritanical' prurience - exaggerated concern with sexual 'goings-on'

This is a list which is useful precisely to the degree to which we can measure ourselves along the nine axes. The point is: when we encounter these behaviours in force, few systems of support and explanation are going to help us deal with them.





This last week has truly been a momentous and depressing time. No-one who is in business could but fail to be concerned about banking and stock exchange crises which are unfolding if only because virtually all businesses depend on the health of the economy for their own survival; of course, it is equally concerning for those not in business – for the employees, the pensioners, and just about anybody worried about the value of their money.

With every cloud, though, they say there is a silver lining. So at Motivational Maps there must be at least nine good reasons to be cheerful, despite the gloom.

One, we need to focus on the difference we can make in a bad situation. After all, it was at the height of World War 2 that we discovered the true character of the British (and other nationalities) people. Again, as the proverb goes: the darkest hour is just before the dawn. While we wait for it – what can we do? What difference can we make?

Two, at a time of emergency constraints can be thrown off – shackles removed. Chaos, and dealing with chaos, is usually not best served by custom: by standing in line and doing what we’ve always done. It’s countered by the spirit of freedom – the autonomy to act and be decisive.

Three. Also, creativity is key – innovation, new ideas, new approaches, a relentless pursuit of what Dr de Bono called ‘lateral thinking’. And as Einstein put it – I paraphrase from memory – the level of thinking that created the problem cannot solve it. We need to embrace a new level of thinking – rejecting well worn categories of thought and embracing new ideas.

Four. In doing so we need to harness our expertise, our knowledge, skills and experience. We probably only use less than 10% of what we actually know at any given time, so why not ramp up what we know and can do? Time for training, for learning, and for personal development – to bring all this to bear on the problems we face.

Five. What physical resources do we have? Are they targeted on the problem? Are they, and are we, focused on the solution? Or are we hibernating, hoping the problems will just magically go away or be solved by somebody else? And then we can step out into a brave new world, yet continue as we were before? Hardly likely. No, we each of us have resources – how can we use them more effectively?

Six. What about the people we know – and the leverage we have? Who do we know who can also help and support? Let’s look to deploy the key peoples in our network to overcome these crises. Bizarrely, this sounds like asking for communities – which is exactly what we need. Even the Governments are now being asked to not go it alone, but to consider the global community of nations to solve the problem.

Seven. Let’s give recognition to those people, those groups who are making a difference. Encouragement goes a long way. As William James observed: the deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated. Notice that word – not ‘need’, but ‘craving’. If we cannot make a difference ourself, then ensure we applaud those who are.

Eight. Along with recognition we need to start supporting other people – creating powerful teams. It seems trite and ripe for a poster somewhere but TEAM – Together Each Achieves More – really is true. People can perform at much higher levels when they feel they are personally part of something much bigger.

Finally, Nine: with all the focus on making a difference, decisiveness and creativity, it is also important to always cover ‘base’. I think it was Jack Welch who talked about the ‘Reality Principle’ – what is the reality in this situation? What are the facts? The real facts – not the assumed facts or wished for facts. We need to go forward secure in the knowledge that what we are doing is right and not just a leap in the dark – have we done our homework?

Happy Motivation – and let’s hope the economics improve along these nine lines.